Leftovers can be amazing. They are an easy meal you don’t have to think about and can just heat up and eat. However, it turns out they can also be very dangerous, and even deadly. That was the sad case for a 20-year-old student who passed away after eating five-day-old pasta.
His case was written about in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology a few years ago, but thanks to some YouTube videos and Reddit posts, it’s making waves again. According to case reports, to save time, the student would make his meals for the week on Sunday. One week, he boiled some pasta and put it in Tupperware containers so that he could just add some sauce to it and reheat it days later.
After five days of the pasta sitting on the counter at room temperature, he reheated some and ate it. He noted a strange taste but wrote it off to the new tomato sauce he was using. He went out to play sports however after 30 minutes, he had to come home due to abdominal pain, nausea and a headache. Diarrhea and vomiting followed so he drank water and tried to sleep it off. The next day, when he didn’t get out of bed for his classes, his parents checked on him and unfortunately, he had died.
After examining his body, investigators concluded he passed away at 4 a.m., ten hours after eating the spaghetti. His autopsy showed he died of liver necrosis after his liver had shut down. Samples of the pasta and tomato sauce he ate were sent to the National Reference Laboratory for Food-borne Outbreaks, where they discovered significant amounts of a bacterial called Bacillus cereus. In most cases, the bacteria just causes diarrhea and vomiting, but there are extreme cases where it affects the liver and causes it to fail.
The bacteria is best known for causing a type of food poisoning called “Fried Rice Syndrome,” since rice is sometimes cooked and left to cool at room temperature for a few hours. During that time, the bacteria contaminates it and grows. It is especially dangerous because the bacteria produces a toxin in rice and other starchy foods that is heat resistant and may not die when the food it is on is cooked.
B. cereus is scarily common too. Previously, an entire family got sick from it after eating eight-day-old pasta salad at a picnic. To prevent getting sick from it, just be sure any starchy food you eat hasn’t been kept at room temperature for an extended period of time. When in doubt, cook it at a high temperature to try to kill off any bacteria, or just don’t eat it.